Unlearning How To Speak As A Planner

Emily Badger delivers a lesson in how to navigate the linguistic minefield awaiting anyone who endeavors to talk about cities with those who don't live in one.

With seemingly innocuous, but loaded, terms like "urban", "smart growth", or "transit-oriented development" posing a potential minefield of antagonism towards ignorant planners, Badger seeks advice from those in the field as to what certain terms connote to those outside of cities, and strategies for workarounds.

The first lesson, delivered by Chuck Marohn, the executive director of the non-profit Strong Towns, is to recognize the danger inherent in using certain terms with condescending overtones such as "smart growth" or "auto-oriented". "That antagonistic language keeps us from having this broader dialogue," Marohn says. "It allows us to remain polarized round issues that at their central core are universal. We all want to live in places that we like. We all want to feel safe. We all want access to food, shelter, recreation, entertainment. These are things that are essentially universal."

The next lesson is to find a common language to address what are often common concerns between small town and urban residents. To Mahon this common language is "the language of economics, of debt and prosperity and gas price."

According to Badger, "It's not that cities need 'smart growth' and rural towns are destined to die in the mass exodus from dumb farms to sardine-like urban apartments. Rather, everyone needs to figure out how to rebuild communities that aren't caught in the trap of endlessly expanding development – not because this pattern is morally or environmentally problematic, but because it's financially so."

Full Story: How To Talk About Cities Without Ticking Off Folks Who Don't Live There

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